Thursday, July 9, 2009

Hierarchy bric-a-brac

John told me that I should articulate some of my thoughts on what I've been learning about hierarchy! So pardon some image reposting, here.

When I start out doing a construction/hierarchy study, I start by printing a couple of black and white copies of the image I want. Not only does it make the work portable (and easier on the eyes), but it allows me to doodle ALL OVER the original image! I don't really do this for reference, but to get acquainted with the image. You can't really see the marks too terribly well on the cheapo prints I get at the library, but it helps me understand the basic shapes to draw over my reference picture. I can tell what fits, I get a decent sense of proportion, and I can make notes about where relationships in the image are. Usually the biggest musts are the line of action, the cranium, the body shapes, etc.

With the basic shapes well understood, I take out a fresh print of the reference image and start my own drawing! Line of action, pears and spheres to start. After I feel like I've gotten the major shapes in (mitts for the hands, limbs, etc) I scan the image for the first time and compare it with the original. Does it all fit in? Only when the bare bones fit do I let myself move onto the next level of hierarchy, with things like the hair mass.

I am going to admit that my early drawings are very messy. I can understand what's going on in them, but I know I need to keep things cleaner. Be a better student than I am and make your drawings neat and orderly!

Anyawy, so, with everything larger in place, I start building the next level down-- larger details. In this drawing's case, the shape of the hair curls are a good example-- that strange tube-like shape that falls, connected around the main hair mass. Here is about where I start checking, rechecking, and correcting myself over and over again! There still aren't the smallest details, though. No things like individual hairs until VERY LAST!

I spend the most time here, like I said, because I check and correct, etc. The first drawing is obviously different from the rest because it's the messiest. I was more concerned with figuring out the hair shape, first, I guess. Do not let yourself get away with mushy drawings like that!

Anyway, when I started out doing the obsessive checking/rechecking stuff, I was scanning my drawing seriously dozens of times. I'm now down to about 5 for this stage, and I need it less with each new study. Not letting myself get away with errors, insisting that they are fixed before I move on, I think has allowed me to become more of an acute observer. With these four drawings above, you probably can't see much of a difference, but I can see where I am pushing and pulling the hair curl and other larger details.

I want to explain, here, though, that I don't just overlay my drawings when I check them. What I like to do is line the drawing and the ref up in photoshop, put keep my drawing, the top layer, on full opacity. I hit that little layer eye over and over again, checking to see the way the difference moves. It lets me see the mistakes better. This is why when I have drawings riddled with correction arrows, they are more "directional thrust" corrections than anything-- if moving from my drawing to the original makes a finger shrink, for example, I tend to draw a little arrow that "pulls" the finger outward, indicating that I need to take it further out. I don't know if that makes a lot of sense to write out, but thinking about it like a movement works better for me than just overlaying. Maybe I will make an animated gif some time of what I mean.

Well, anyway, after I feel satisfied with the basic structure of the drawing, putting the details in is just like draping a cloth over a table I just made. Everything fits pretty snugly over top. The once-complicated-looking curls of hair? They are just details that wrap neatly around that strange and complicated shape I took great pains to reconstruct! They just follow along the preexisting contours and if you haven't cheated, details are the EASIEST part, even if they look complicated.

After all the details are in, I go over my blue lines with a regular pencil. I correct any tiny errors I've just then noticed and I'm done!


Shapes like the abdomen, legs, arms, hands. No clothing, no hair. The hair right now is just a mass as far as we're concerned!

Smaller details. Clothing (gloves, frills, sleeves with wrinkles), hair.



  1. You're doing good practices.

    No major problems - looks great.

    Keep going!

    I found because of John K's blog.

    Wish he'd look at my stuff - but perhaps he thinks it's crap.

  2. Hey. Thanks for posting this, Geneva. I really like your advice about doodling on a copy of the drawing first to get a feel for the shapes. I'm going to start doing that too.

  3. Just giving you some encouragement as these studies look great! Unsuprisingly John's totally right about doing these studies, you can almost directly plot your improvement.

    These last two really capture the swagger of the lines and that extra bounce that makes them really sing.

    Stay away from those tractor pulls and keep going! Actually, on second thought, you could most likely find some interesting characters at a Bowling Green tractor pull.

  4. Got likeyed from John K's and I must say that this is a sight for sore eyes. The learning technique given here has helped me past a mental block in my learning process.

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